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  • Writer's pictureElise

Cook Book Club: April's ingredient is Cinnamon. The country: Costa Rica!

This year we are doing things a little differently. Instead of simply a seasoning or spice, we are highlighting entire cultures. Kits will include this spice, a recipe that highlights it, a little history on the spice or recipe, maybe some insight into the culture and some best practices. I'll post the recipes and information here as well, so let's get cooking!

 

A Brief History of Costa Rica and Its Cuisine

Costa Rica has been inhabited since at least 5000BCE by indigenous people, although some historians date that to more than twice that. However, in part because of its location, there has been a lot of migration between regions especially by the much larger societies of the Aztec, Maya, and Inca even in pre-Colombian times, making much of the original culture largely lost to other influences. These big three as well as Spain have had the most dramatic visual and cultural impact on the natives of the region. This can be seen everywhere from their handcrafts and pottery to their fashion and cuisine. There persists a small contingent of smaller tribes maintaining their identity and in fact not all can be put down to these four influences.

On a more positive note, Costa Rica maintains the oldest democracy of all Latin America, having declared its independence in 1838, and maintains a fairly egalitarian agriculture-centric society. And because of its sparse though determined native population and rich natural resources, initial colonizers, lacking a viable slave workforce, were forced to utilize smaller farms rather than the massive plantations seen in other Latin American countries, thus better conserving the abundant natural resources and laying the groundwork for the ecologically-forward practices we see today. Unlike most other nations, Costa Rica even managed to gain its independence without bloodshed and in 1949 even abolished its army and created a free constitution with universal suffrage after a brief but bloody civil war.

One of the most astonishing and quixotic artifacts are the manmade stone spheres of both Palmar Norte and Sur. No one knows why they were created or exactly when, but there are over 300 of these petrospheres all over Costa Rica, probably created by peoples of the Diquis or similar as pathways leading up to the chiefs' houses. But no one knows for sure. About a decade ago, these spheres, ranging in size from a few centimeters to boulders weighing several tons, were finally recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage sight. Hopefully this will help to preserve and protect the ancient heritage of the area. However, even with this added protection, native tribes are quickly dwindling as their ways of life are subsumed by more modern societies and currently only 2% or less of the population is Indigenous American.

In terms of cuisine, all this migration and colonization has left an overlapping pallet since near its inception. Even before the significant impact of various Spanish and African influences by colonizers and slaves, the constant push and pull of major Latin American societies from both North and South meant that the big three as well as Chibchas from the South all left their own mark. In addition, Costa Rica is incredibly rich in natural resources. Two oceans, a rainforest, mountains, volcanoes, tons of agriculture... and this is just scratching the surface. And maize (corn) is used in almost everything. This wide variety of pallets and resources has left a hearty, though sometimes hidden from tourists, cultural cuisine.

 

Main Event Version 1

Costa Rican Chorreadas - Sweet Version (Corn Pancakes)

Adapted from Recipes from Costa Rica for use by the Brown Deer Library Cookbook Club

Chorreadas are traditional Costa Rican street food.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh corn (white or yellow)

  • 1/3 cup flour

  • 1/4 cup sugar

  • 1/3 cup milk

  • 2 eggs

  • 2 tbsp butter

  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

  • pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Using a food processor or a blender, combine all the ingredients, don't overdo it, the mixture should be crumby.

  2. ​Heat a lightly oiled pan over medium-high heat. Pour 1/4 cup of the batter onto the pan. Cook until lightly brown on each side, just like making pancakes ;)

  3. Traditionally you serve it with a spoon of sour cream on top.

Main Event Version 2

Costa Rican Chorreadas - Savory Version

(Corn Pancakes)

Adapted from Pura Vida Moms for use by the Brown Deer Library Cookbook Club

This variation might be slightly more traditional. Both are delicious and gluten free.

Ingredients

  • fresh yellow corn (canned or removed from a cooked cob of corn)

  • milk

  • sugar or salt

  • flour

  • cooking oil

Directions

  1. Remove the corn from the can and drain. If using corn on the cob, make remove the corn with a sharp knife.

  2. Blend the corn, flour, milk and salt (or sugar) in a blender until a very smooth consistency is reached. If you are making sweet chorreadas make sure to use sugar instead of salt.

  3. Preheat a skillet to medium heat (or medium-high heat if using an electric stove) and add cooking oil or nonstick cooking spray. Coat the pan.

  4. Pour the corn mixture into the pan until you have about 1/4 inch of batter in the pan. These are notorious for falling apart, and you want a nice round tortilla-like shape. Therefore, make sure to pour just enough to evenly coat the pan.

  5. Lower heat to low, and cover the chorreada mixture. Cook through and remove. Repeat until you have no more batter.

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